VISUAL VOICES: AN INTERVIEW WITH Martin Joyce

What are the core and fundamental themes and concepts of your art?

I’m not someone who has one grand theoretical concept that I’m seeking to pay out in my work, so I’m not sure that there is really any one theme that could be communicated in a soundbite to explain what I do.  I paint or draw things that move me, for one reason or another, and make me want to show them to others, through the prism of my own, personal perception.  That doesn’t mean I don’t have ideas about what I’m going to do- A few things that are important to me:  


(1) A painting is not a piece of candy for the eyes.  I want my paintings to engage the viewer, and I want the viewer to be drawn in and work with the painting a little bit.  So I have different strategies I use for that.  I may break up the image, as in my “Fifteen Puzzle” series, with the hope that the viewer will want to re-assemble it, and start looking for the seams and edges where the bits and pieces go back together, and to put the original image together in their mind; when that happens, I think it leads to an interesting dynamic, with an image on the wall, and another image in the mind of the viewer.  Or I may place lines in contrasting color, or faceless figures, into an otherwise realistic scene; I want the viewer to be puzzled -- to think “why is that line there?" and "who are these people?”  My hope is that the viewer will spend a little more time, and more importantly a little more off their attention, on my work. That I will maybe get past the eyeballs, as it were, and deeper into the brain.  And in that way, that I’ll be able to establish a deeper connection with the viewer, and a more durable relationship between the viewer and the art.



(2) A painting is not a photograph.  We have photography for that, these days, so paintings are challenged to be something more, or at least something different, from a photograph.  For me, that something more is a way of looking at objects or scenes that hopefully reveals more than a photo would.  I want to show people things that they might not think are worth looking at, and to show them how to see the beauty in ordinary, “ugly” objects, such as my Dumpsters.  Also, to show them conventionally “pretty” things but in a way that undermines that view, such as a group of flowers, where a few of them are wilted, and dropping their petals.  Here again, I want to engage my viewers, and draw them in a little, make them think.   Maybe they’ll be challenged by the artistic choice to make these “uglies” the subject of a fine art painting?  Or the choice to show the spoiled blossoms as well as the healthy ones.  Maybe they’ll be moved to re-consider their own preconception of ugliness or prettiness, worthiness or unworthiness, in these objects.  And maybe they will reconsider their own relationship to such objects.  Perhaps, for a very few, they may even start to think about the concept of ugliness itself, and whether it is really a valid way to view things.  I’m tempted to go on here about the connection to Buddhist thought that I see here, but I think I’ll leave that for another day.  


(3) I often include figures in my paintings that have no faces, or very indistinct and not-individualized faces.  I’m not sure why exactly I’m drawn to do this — it’s NOT the result of a specific, intentional strategy, but rather emerged organically with no particular plan on my part to do so.  One suggestion that was put to me is that they represent Everyone, or Anyone.  That the lack of features means that the viewer is free to imagine himself or herself, or maybe someone else they know, as that person in the picture, and to project themselves into the scene.  I think there might be some truth to that, at a sub-conscious level, though not, as I said, a conscious strategy.  But hey, if it works that way for one of my viewers, that’s fine with me.  


(4) I’m very interested in certain technical issues, such as the difference between drawing and painting.  Drawing is based on lines, which are usually long and narrow; dark; continuous; and uninflected.  Painting deals with fields of color, which are usually broad and wide; bright or dull, of any hue; and textured.  Some of my recent work, in particular the Cloud Trees, explores the relationship between these two disciplines, and tries to combine them on a single canvas.

How closely do these ideas relate to your creative process and the actual act of creating the art itself?

I do most of my thinking before I start working on the piece.  So I will typically have a concept, and I may spend a lot (or a little) time thinking about how the idea should be translated into pencil or paint, looking for the right image that will fit the concept, before I ever begin to make the image.  
       Once I have a plan, and a particular image in mind, and I’m ready to turn to the actual work, I’ll be mostly concerned with execution and technique.  I already have a destination in mind, so my thoughts are all about how best to get there.  What pencils, what brushes, what colors, what methods.  I think it’s really important for artists to master their tools and materials, and to execute their work with intention and skill.  Otherwise, where is the art?  

Which artists, designers, creators (past or present) are you inspired and influenced by?

When I was much younger my artistic heroes were pretty much the big names of the last hundred and fifty years:  Cezanne, Matisse, Van Gogh, Paul Klee, and others.  More recently, I’ve begun to find a great deal of pleasure in discovering and exploring artists that are not so well known.  Right now I’m really obsessed with the work Raimonds Staprans has been doing for the last 20 years (he’s been painting for much, much longer so there’s a lot of earlier stuff that is less thrilling).  He’s associated with the San Francisco artists of that generation, like Wayne Thibaud and Richard Diebenkorn (both of whom I also like very much).  Like Thibaud, his use of light and color, and the way he puts them together at boundaries to create excitement, is really outstanding.  
I’m also very intrigued with the work of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, who was one of the founders, in the 19th Century, of the Academy des Beaux Arts in Paris.  His paintings have a sort of academic quality to them, and yet they a very abstract quality at the same time.  There are a few of his works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and they are just very different from anything else on the walls.

An artist of powerful creative voice and message, what do you wish to communicate to your audience? 


Everywhere you look, there are things to see, and they are all beautiful, if you know how to look for that beauty.  When I walk around the City, I always find it immensely exciting to look at everything, and to see how wonderfully beautiful it all is.  Including dumpsters, condiment bottles, artificial flowers, mannequins, street furniture, and on and on.  Every object has its own beauty; just look for it and it will be there for you.  
OK, I know I said I’d leave this for another day, but one of the precepts of Buddhism (I like to think I have at least a little-toe on the Path) is not to cling: not to be attached to things, or drawn to them in a way that sets up a positive desire for that thing, because that desire, sooner or later, will be the cause of unhappiness. But the flip side of that is revulsion, and that’s also to be avoided, since it is really just the negative manifestation of desire.  So seeing an object only for its prettiness is an illusory way of seeing, but seeing it for its ugliness, maybe being disgusted by it, is equally illusory.  My message is: don’t be fooled into thinking of things as “ugly."  Or “pretty,” for that matter.  
What I really don’t do, though, is to use my art to send a political message.  That sort of thing, in my view, usually subordinates and ultimately destroys the art.  PIcasso’s “Guernica” is a very rare exception to that rule — and it’s really a rare exception among his works, as well.  It works in that one case because it was heartfelt and personal to him, and to have an urgency that he wasn’t capable of denying — it seems almost as though he couldn’t not have painted it.  But how often does an artist experience that kind of urgency?  How often is a political topic so personal to the artist that he or she really has something true (internally true, I mean) to say about it?  For me, the primacy of that personal connection and emotion is key: if it’s really something that has to come out, and has to come out as a work of art, then the resulting artwork will probably resonate with true feelings. But absent that… well, it’s not likely to really succeed.


Creatively, professionally and in all aspects of being an artist, what are your goals for your upcoming works and art?

Everywhere you look, there are things to see, and they are all beautiful, if you know how to look for that beauty.  When I walk around the City, I always find it immensely exciting to look at everything, and to see how wonderfully beautiful it all is.  Including dumpsters, condiment bottles, artificial flowers, mannequins, street furniture, and on and on.  Every object has its own beauty; just look for it and it will be there for you.  
OK, I know I said I’d leave this for another day, but one of the precepts of Buddhism (I like to think I have at least a little-toe on the Path) is not to cling: not to be attached to things, or drawn to them in a way that sets up a positive desire for that thing, because that desire, sooner or later, will be the cause of unhappiness. But the flip side of that is revulsion, and that’s also to be avoided, since it is really just the negative manifestation of desire.  So seeing an object only for its prettiness is an illusory way of seeing, but seeing it for its ugliness, maybe being disgusted by it, is equally illusory.  My message is: don’t be fooled into thinking of things as “ugly."  Or “pretty,” for that matter.  
What I really don’t do, though, is to use my art to send a political message.  That sort of thing, in my view, usually subordinates and ultimately destroys the art.  PIcasso’s “Guernica” is a very rare exception to that rule — and it’s really a rare exception among his works, as well.  It works in that one case because it was heartfelt and personal to him, and to have an urgency that he wasn’t capable of denying — it seems almost as though he couldn’t not have painted it.  But how often does an artist experience that kind of urgency?  How often is a political topic so personal to the artist that he or she really has something true (internally true, I mean) to say about it?  For me, the primacy of that personal connection and emotion is key: if it’s really something that has to come out, and has to come out as a work of art, then the resulting artwork will probably resonate with true feelings. But absent that… well, it’s not likely to really succeed.


Which of your work/works stands out as a highlight, a favorite, or a significant point in your creative growth and development? and why?

Fifteen Puzzle: Angelic Girl came along midway through the series, but it’s the first Fifteen Puzzle that featured the face of my daughter; previously, it was just numbers, and no pictures, so the effects I referred to above weren’t really activated in the same way.   Since that one, I’ve put her fac in several others, but I still think it’s the best of those.  Fifteen Puzzle: Granny Smith marked another small turning point, in that I used 16 separate canvases instead of a single one.  This means that the image can be physically assembled or reassembled in any way that I desire, and could change from time to time.  This breaks down the permanence, and therefore the authority, of any one arrangement, and it challenges the viewer in a rather different way than the single-canvas paintings.  So far “Granny Smith” is the only one I’ve done that way, but I have the materials for a couple more, and I expect I will be doing more of them very soon.


Two Dumpsters:  This is one of my earliest “dumpster” pictures.  I happened upon a group of dumpsters while walking along the Hudson River, and I thought the configuration was interesting, as they were lined up, but not perfectly so, and that this could make for an interesting picture.  Dumpsters are not a traditional sort of subject for fine art, but I decided to challenge myself to make something beautiful out of them.  So I changed the colors, and played around with the image, eventually producing this one, and a few others.

Another picture that came from my wanderings along the Hudson.  There are a lot of buses dropping off tourists and picking them up, and therefore large bus stops in several places.  This one is near the Intrepid aircraft carrier.    

Bridge at Wakayama:  This is the first of my "collage paintings.”  I had it in mind to make an acrylic painting of this view, but before sitting down in front of a canvas I decided to use collage techniques to make a study of the color and shapes, using colored construction paper.  The idea was to eliminate detail, which is basically impossible to render when you’re reduced to cutting paper with a pair of scissors, and also to try out different colors together to see how they would look.  I liked the result so much that I forgot about the acrylics, and just started making collage-paintings.  First the Japanese waterfront, then later Cape May beach scenes, and eventually still life and figurative work as well.  I really love the way that the paper, with its naturally sharp edges and flat aspect, pushes the image to a greater level of abstraction.  And the strong differentiation of the colors creates something like an animation of the scene, which can be very attractive.  I eventually made about a dozen of them, and expect to do more, though I’ve now gone back to doing acrylics as well.















Dress Me Chic:  This one is only the first of what I envision as a series of pictures, mainly but not exclusively devoted to the windows of the Garment District in New York City.  It’s bit of a grungy area, not meant for tourists or even most New Yorkers, as it is really just fashion designer, dressmakers, sellers of zippers and buttons and what-not, so these windows are a way for the fashion industry to talk to itself.  I feel like painting their windows is a little like eavesdropping on that conversation.  





The Cloud Trees:  This is a group 12 that was inspired by a cluster of mediterranean cypress trees in the Parque del Buen Retiro in Madrid.  They have been sculpted by the gardeners into fantastic shapes that are very attractive to visitors to the Parque, and I’ve made them the centerpiece for this set of pictures, each of which also features one or more visitors sitting or standing nearby, enjoying their shade or their shapes.  It also represents a technical shift, in that I’ve made a conscious effort to incorporate drawing techniques into the paintings — most notably in the use of parallel lines in the shadows to indicate darkness.

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